(Updated July 2, 2015)
Ah, the pitter patter of four-legged feet as they whip through your living room at overclocked speeds or uproot your prize gladiolas with manic fervor. But Snookiepuss and Mrs. Fluffypants are practically family, right? So why should they settle for anything less than top drawer when their health and wellbeing are at stake? Throw the planet a bone while you're at it; we've got the goods on how to reduce your pets' carbon paw prints--without making your wallet roll over and play dead.
Top Green Pet Tips
- 39 million: the number of birds killed annually by domestic cats - in Wisconsin (The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)!
- 66 million: the number of pet cats in the United States; approximately 35% are kept exclusively indoors.
- 75 percent: the decreased likelihood that adults will develop allergies, if they grow up with two or more pets as children.
- 60 percent: the percent of pet owners who have a dog; on average owners have almost two dogs (1.7).
- 5,500: the numbers of puppies and kittens that are born every hour in the United States, compared with 415 human babies.
- 28 percent: the percent of pet owning heart patients who survived serious heart attacks, compared with only 6% of patients without pets.
- 25 percent: the percent of purebred dogs who were afflicted with serious genetic problems in 1994 (Time Magazine).
- 3-4 million:the number of homeless cats and dogs that are euthanized annually.
Adopt from a shelter
Some pet breeders have only one goal--to raise large quantities of purebred animals for profit. They've also been pilloried for misdeeds such as overbreeding, inbreeding, poor veterinary oversight, lousy food and living conditions, overcrowding, and culling of unwanted animals. Why buy when you can adopt one of the 70,000 puppies and kittens born every day in the United States? Love knows no pedigree. Check out Petfinder.com to find your perfect match.
Spay or neuter your pet
Did we mention 70,000 puppies and kittens are born every day in the United States? That's 15 puppies and 45 kittens for every hairless biped that slides out of a birth canal. And "multiplying like bunnies" isn't just any old trope. We don't need any more homeless animals than we already have. As a bonus, spaying and neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives by eliminating the possibility of uterine, ovarian, and testicular cancer, and decreasing the incidence of prostate disease.
Rein in your pets; protect native wildlife
Always keep your dog on a leash when outside, and confine your mangy feline indoors. Topped only perhaps by habitat destruction, cats are the biggest, baddest bird killers of all time. Even wind turbines have got nothing on them. While you may poo-poo high cat-related bird-mortality rates as collateral damage in the great Circle of Life, domestic cats do have an unfair advantage. Unlike wild predators, house cats are always well fed, well rested, and in tip-top fighting shape. They're also present in more concentrated (and rapidly increasing) numbers than say, the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike.
That aside, two out of every three vets, according to the Humane Society of America, recommend keeping cats indoors, because of the dangers of cars, predators, disease, and other hazards. The estimated average life span of a free-roaming cat is less than three years; an indoors-only cat gets to live an average of 15 to 18 years. If kitty needs to heed the call of the wild, an outdoor cat enclosure is a good compromise.
Swap out the junk food
Most conventional pet-food brands you find at the supermarket consist of reconstituted animal by-products, otherwise known as low-grade wastes from the beef and poultry industries--you know, inedibles you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot fork. In fact, the animals used to make many pet foods are classified as "4-D," which is really a polite way of saying "Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Down (Disabled)" when they line up at the slaughterhouse. Unless that can of Chicken 'N Liver Delite explicitly states that it contains FDA-certified, food-grade meat, you should know that its contents are considered unfit for human consumption--but apparently good enough for your cat or pooch.
Now, since nutrition is one of the key determinants of health and resistance to disease, ideally you'll want your pet's chow to be comparable in quality with what we would eat.
Natural and organic pet foods use meats that are raised in sustainable, humane ways without added drugs or hormones, minimally processed, and preserved with natural substances, such as vitamins C and E. Certified-organic pet foods must meet strict USDA standards that spell out how ingredients are produced and processed, which means no pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, artificial preservatives, artificial ingredients or genetically engineered ingredients.
Clean up their poop
Scoop up your doggie doo in biodegradable poop bags so your buddy's No. 2 isn't immortalized in a plastic bag, while deep-sixed in a landfill somewhere for hundreds of years. Cat owners should avoid clumping clay litter at all costs. Not only is clay strip-mined (bad for the planet), but the clay sediment is also permeated with carcinogenic silica dust that can coat little kitty lungs (bad for the cat). Plus, the sodium bentonite that acts as the clumping agent can poison your cat through chronic ingestion through their fastidious need to groom. Because sodium bentonite acts like expanding cement--it's also used as a grouting, sealing, and plugging material--it can swell up to15 to18 times their dry size and clog up your cat's insides. Eco-friendly cat litters avoid these problems; a happy cat is a cat that doesn't claw your face off.
Give them sustainable goods
Your furry friends can get in on some saving-the-planet goodness, too--and have plenty of fun--with toys made from recycled materials or sustainable fibers (sans herbicides or pesticides) such as hemp. A hemp collar (with matching leash) is a rocking accessory for a tree-hugging mutt. These days, you can even get pet beds made with organic cotton or even recycled PET bottles.
Use natural pet-care and cleaning products
You don't use toxic-chemical-laced shampoos and beauty products, so lather up your cats and dogs (or ferrets, rabbits, or hamsters--we don't judge) with natural pet-care products, as well. And if your cat horks up a hairball, or Fifi doesn't make it all the way to the bathroom, clean up the mess with cleaning products that are as gentle on the planet as they are on your critters' delicate senses.
Pets, not fads
Sure, everyone's ovaries ping when they see a five-year-old moppet cradle a tiny chick or a bunny during Easter, but nature dictates that baby bunnies grow up into rabbits, and little chicks into full-size chickens. Unless everyone involved understands that a pet is a long-term commitment that involves demands on both their time and money, you're better off giving the kid a stuffed animal. Impulse buying (say, rushing out an grabbing the next available Dalmatian puppy after watching 101 Dalmatians) isn't a good idea, either, as the large numbers of fad dogs that pass through shelters (often to their death) can attest. Repeat after us--especially you, Paris Hilton: Pets are not fads or fashion accessories, and teacup pigs don't stay that tiny.
Melt the ice, nicely
Use a child- and pet-safe deicer such as Safe Paw's environmentally friendly Ice Melter. Rock salt and salt-based ice-melting products, which kids and animals might accidentally ingest, can cause health problems, while contaminating wells and drinking supplies.
Tag your pet
It might be a stretch to call inserting an electronic ID chip into your pet an eco-friendly move, but losing your buddy causes extreme emotional distress that turns you into nobody's friend. Then there's the paper waste from printing out Missing posters, the fuel cost of driving around your neighborhood trying to find them, the phone bill as you bawl your eyes out to everyone you know ... well, you get the idea. Ask your vet for more info. For hanging tags, check out these WaggTaggs made from recycled silver.
Compost their poop
American dogs and cats create 10 million tons of waste a year, and no one knows where it's going, according to Will Brinton, a scientist in Mount Vernon, Maine, and one of the world's leading authorities on waste reduction and composting.
Most of our pets' poop either winds up in a landfill purgatory, where it's embalmed practically forever in plastic bags, or sits on the ground until the next rainstorm washes it into the sewer where it can drift on down to rivers and beaches. You can compost the poop--just don't use it with your vegetable garden, because the compost doesn't heat up enough to kill pathogens such as E. coli., which could contaminate your homegrown produce and land up in your (very unhappy) belly.
If you have room in your backyard, you can bury an old garbage bin (note: far away from your vegetable garden) to use as a pet-waste composter. Or check out the Doggie Dooley. The makers of the Doggy Dooley also sell an enzymatic "Super Digester Concentrate" for your backyard pet septic system.
Be a pet chef
If you want to know exactly what is going into your furball's food dish, or your pet suffers from allergies, you can always make your own puppy (or kitty) chow. If the idea of becoming a fulltime pet chef is just crazy talk, making the occasional meal or treat is completely doable. Those broccoli stalks left over from your last stirfry also make some tasty morsels for your pup.
Your cat will love you forever if you grow your own organic catnip or cat grass. Scrap yarn and fabric you might otherwise toss can also easily be transformed into pet toys with some basic crafty know-how. And they wouldn't have had to be trucked thousands of miles just to get drooled on.
Get ticks off
While you don't want to douse your pet in toxins, it is also important to keep the bugs in check. Pets can carry ticks, and ticks can carry Lyme Disease, a serious and poorly understood disease that attacks the nervous system. If you live in an area where Lyme Disease is a risk, be very cautious and seek sound advice on keeping ticks off you and your furry friends.
Offset your pet
Maybe Scruffy will only drink water from an electric-powered water fountain, or perhaps you have a self-cleaning litter box from before you went green--we all have corpses buried in our backyards. Why not purchase green tags, otherwise known as renewable energy credits, to offset your pets' carbon emissions. Heck, buy 'em for the whole family so no one feels left out. Or better yet, check if your state sells green power so you and your furry compatriots can go carbon neutral.
Green Pets: By The Numbers
Where to Get Green Pet Products
- EarthDog Pet Hemp Products
- Earth Doggy
- Heidi's Bakery Organic Pet Treats
- Only Natural Pet Store
- PetGuard makes pet food with organic ingredients as well as the famous Mr. Barky's treats for dogs.
- Nature's Paws
- Sojo's Homemade Pet Food
- The Big Bad Woof
- The Good Dog Company
- San Francisco's Pet Camp is one of the first pet boarding places in the world to go green.